Monday, November 7, 2011

The Man With The Golden Gun

 What a quick turn around between Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun! It was in fact a year between the two which is unusual for a Bond film. Normally there was at least a two year gap because of the sheer logistics of making a Bond film. But none the less it was one and TMWTGG was released in 1974. Now many consider this the franchises lowest point. But I don't think that at all. Sure it isn't one of the great Bond films but it isn't all that bad either. On release though it was to become the fourth lowest grossing Bond film even though still making a profit. But the main criticisms were directed at its comedic approach which was heavier than any previous film.

 The overall view of the film hasn't changed in the preceding 37 years either. It is ranked within the bottom four worst Bond films. Whilst I dislike the word 'worst' as I like all of the Bond films in way or another, it is one I would intentionally or intentionally watch towards the end if I was to play all 22 films back to back. Not because I dislike it but there are in all honesty better. But for its criticisms I have a soft spot for this, Roger Moore's second outing as 007, and am always happy to watch it.

 As a Bond film there is enough to like but also things to bemoan. For me the only things I question in this was the use of the boat chase and the use of character Sheriff J. W. Pepper. My problem here is that a extensive and probably over long boat chase was used in previous film Live and Let Die. So there is a lack of originality there. But the reprising of Clifton James sheriff role didn't sit well with me. Even in Live and Let Die he is a bit dubious in the overall scheme of the film. But in TMWTGG he is completely out of place. His inclusion is to add an air of comedy but he is almost embarrassing. Besides these two complaints there is still enough I like though.

 The comedy in this is far heavier than in any previous Bond film. Whilst criticised I actually don't mind it as it is juxtaposed with Moore's Bond also having more steel and thugishness than in Live and Let Die. The humour is more sexual innuendo and double entendre than anything else. It is extremely clever and genuinely funny. I certainly laughed at it all. But the humour probably doesn't work so well in some of the sight gags. For instance the scene where Bond and Pepper jump the canal and the car does a flip in mid-air. I've always questioned the decision to add in that type of humour as it isn't quite Bond like. The ad-lib lines and sexual innuendo are, of which Roger Moore was perfect at that type of light comedy. But the sight gags probably don't fit as well.

 This of course was the ninth Bond film. It is now hard to credit there are now 22 Bond films with another to come! Nine in 1974 must have seemed an incredible feat, and even though not as lucrative as previous films it still made money. The film as usual is based on Ian Fleming's novel of the same name. But there almost all similarities stop because the novel was more a novella and not long enough to adapt a film from. In fact almost the only elements used are the names Bond, Mary Goodnight and Scaramanga. The use of a golden gun by Scaramanga was even changed, because in the novella he uses a gold plated Colt six-shooter, where as in the film it is a custom built pistol.

 So what the film adaptation is in all reality was the first time a story outside of Fleming's influence was attempted. As stated it used the title and character names, but that was it .What you and I see on the screen has nothing to do with the novel what so ever. This may account for the average showing of the script. Whilst it isn't a bad script it is somewhat uneven and the film bounces between highs and lows. In fact on release the only scene that was praised was the films shoot out finale between Bond and Scaramanga. Before then it was probably too light hearted, with even the action scenes too comedy driven in approach.

 For instance the scene where Bond goes to ' school ' to be beaten up. When he escapes and his contact's nieces join in the fight and beat up Bond's pursuers is more comedy than action. In an aside the use of martial arts in the film was in reaction to the then world wide craze of martial arts films ( ie Enter the Dragon ). The Bond franchise always was receptive to the mood of the times and this is an example. Of course its most famous move was in jumping on the success of Star Wars and putting Bond into space for Moonraker.

 So how was Moore as Bond in his second outing? Well after the criticism he copped for being too charming and lacking steel in Live and Let Die Moore showed in this turn his Bond could be a cold hard man when needed. Two scenes reinforce this for me. The first is when he meets the gunsmith Lazar and points the loaded rifle at his groin and threatens to blow certain bits off if he doesn't cop up the information he wants. The second is when he roughs up Maud Adams character and quite firmly tells her what she is going to do to help him bring down Scaramanga. Both scenes show Moore's Bond at his hard best and dissipate for me the criticisms that Moore wasn't a strong enough Bond.

 The really interesting thing here is the historical backdrop against which the film was made. Obviously Britain at the time was in the middle of its energy crisis. And so the film adapted that into its plot with the ' solex agitator '. Again I refer to my earlier point of the Bond films having a pulse on the current events of the times ( this is why filming was predominately in the Far East due to the then popularity of martial arts films ). This in face of the fact the novella was based entirely in Jamaica. But Jamaica had been used previously in Dr. No and Live and Let Die. So this was a chance to get Bond out into other 'exotic ' locations.

 Actually TMWTGG was going to be made after You Only Live Twice. But it was scrapped as planned filming in Cambodia became impractical due to the outbreak of war. In fact other scouted locations for TMWTGG also suffered from world events! For instance Beirut and Iran were discarded due to the Yom Kippur War. Ha Long Bay in Vietnam for a quite obvious reason as well! Which saw Thailand chosen after pictures were seen of Phuket in a magazine. It was whilst looking at possible filming locations that Broccoli saw the wreckage of RMS Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour and decided to include it in the film.

 This was to be the last film to be co-produced by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Saltzman afterwards sold his 50% share to alleviate his financial troubles to United artists. This lead to legalities which delayed the next film The Spy Who Loved Me for three years. As to castings? Well originally Jack Palance was offered the role of Scaramanga but declined. Interestingly Christopher Lee had been suggested to Broccoli and Saltzman as Dr. No but they had already cast Joseph Wiseman. ( for you not in the know Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee were actually cousins ). Two Swedish models in Britt Ekland and Maud Adams were cast as the Bond girls. Ekland had been interested in being a Bond girl since watching Dr. No and contacted the producers about the role of Mary Goodnight. Maud Adams was cast as a contrast in looks to those of the blonde Ekland. Marc Adams who plays the gunman Scaramanga shoots dead in the films opening had previously appeared in a minor Diamonds are Forever role. He was cast as it was found an interesting idea to put a ' Chicago ' gangster type in the middle of Thailand.

 The film is of course well known for one incredible stunt. This is where stunt driver " Bumps " Willard leaps a AMC Hornet over a broken bridge twisting it 360 degrees in mid-air. It was successfully done in one take and shown in slow motion due to the actual speed necessary for its undertaking. The stunt is quite cool but it has been forever marred by the addition of a penny whistle over the scene. Broccoli kept it in despite reservations, but came to regret it later. One critic described it as  'simply crass ' and that the stunt showed up the lack of excitement in the film. For me it was spoilt by the use of comedy sound effects. Interestingly the stunt was tested many times beforehand and was toured around America before being filmed. UK motoring programme Top Gear  tried to recreate the stunt in 2008 and failed!

 The car plane was filmed at Bovington and was a model inspired by an actual prototype. Again the Bond franchise with its finger on the pulse! The finale between Bond and Scaramanga was significantly shortened because it had pacing problems. This is fortunate because the film at 125 minutes is possibly too long as it stands. Finally the solar power plant was built in Pinewood studios and a used a miniature duplicate model as well. Scenes cut between the two so the viewer was unable to see a discernible difference.

 For Scaramanga's prop golden gun three copies were made. One could be fired with a cap. One we see used in the film with Christopher Lee assembling and disassembling it several times. It of course comprised of an interlocking fountain pen as the barrel, a cigarette lighter as the chamber, and a cigarette case as the handle. Finally a cuff link was the trigger. It is regarded as one of the most memorable Bond film props and is ranked as one of the most popular and recognisable of film weapons. In 2008 one copy was stolen from a studio display and it was valued at 80,000 Pounds!!!!!! As usual there were film product tie ins ( but not as many as in the past ) but bizarrely the toy golden pistol on offer differed from Scaramanga's. Go figure!

 And as ever there is the theme tune! Sung by Lulu it has been variously described as ludicrous, inane, and smut, due to its overt sexual innuendo. Interestingly shock rocker Alice Cooper wrote a song entitled The Man with the Golden Gun for the film which he used on his Muscle of Love album after the producers went with Lulu instead. Composer John Barry who wrote the song hates it and considers it his worst of the franchise. In general critics regard it as the weakest of all the Bond theme songs. Made on a budget of US$7 million it grossed only US$97 million, which as stated, has made it the fourth lowest grossing of all the Bond films.

 When released critics generally savaged it. The script was called limp ( and admittedly it wasn't very good as I've mentioned ). Moore was criticised for non-acting and Britt Ekland came under fire for being the least appealing of the Bond girls. But whilst Moore and Ekland were criticised Christopher Lee was highly praised for playing a particularly good Bond villain. But on the other hand some critics thought Moore very good for adding sparkle to the role of Bond in among the films other wise genral boringness. Reflective views have not changed with time. Called silly, sloppy, tired, and boring it has been rightly pointed out it is tonally an entertaining Bond film but lacking in quality. Moore has been accused of looking stiff but really with such an uneven script what could he do? But all critics agree that the shoot out between Bond and Scaramanga is the films high point.

 So then The Man With the Golden Gun is not regarded as one of the franchise's best. It isn't so much a case of it being bad but a case of an uneven, uninspired script. I can see where critics of the film come from when they call it tired or boring. I don't think it is either as such more as ( I keep coming back to ) uneven. There is a palpable lack of spark and it suffers from some real flat moments. Its two flaws are the boat chase and the reprisal of Sheriff J. W. Pepper. If those two were taken out then the film may have a different look to it, certainly in length, as it does feel too long.

 For me personally, even though this is an admittedly lesser Bond film, I don't consider it bad. Even though inherently flawed I as a Bond aficionado have a real soft spot for it and have no problem with watching it. I think Christopher Lee was a great casting choice as Scaramanga. And even though the script is uninspired it does have some good moments, especially the films shoot out finale between Bond and Scaramanga.

 Final word? Flat, uninspired, uneven, and not a memorable Bond film. But it does have its good points. And even though flawed I consider it better and more watchable than Diamonds are Forever. IMDB has this with 6.7/10 which shows it isn't that bad really.

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  1. bridge stunt is insanneee i should give this one another watch

  2. It's a great stunt isn't it! Would have to be one of cinema's best for sure. I think TMWTGG isn't a bad Bond film overall and quite watchable.

  3. The 360 stunt is just awesome. Shame about the sound effects tho.

  4. The whistle was mis-guided and takes so much away from the stunt. Would be much better without it.